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Redskins offensive preview: Gruden must call short passes early for RGIII

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III drops back to pass last season vs. Kansas City.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III drops back to pass last season vs. Kansas City.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

For the Washington Redskins to rebound from last year’s 3-13 last place season, quarterback Robert Griffin III must improve his level of play after a disastrous sophomore campaign. To accomplish that, he’ll need help from new coach Jay Gruden, who must implement an offense that will help protect the former Heisman winner and get his confidence off on the right foot.

Griffin’s return for the start of last season was rushed after he rehabilitated from a serious knee injury at the end of his rookie year. Griffin was tentative, inaccurate and mechanically flawed in 2013, often throwing off his back foot.

Though Griffin threw for 3,203 yards, much of it came when the Redskins were far behind. In the first two games of the season the Redskins fell behind Philadelphia 33-7 and Green Bay 38-7 before scoring garbage touchdowns.

To help Griffin regain his spectacular rookie form when the Redskins won their first division title since 1999, Gruden will need to call plays that focus on RGIII getting rid of the ball quickly to avoid the rush. This will get RGIII in the flow of the game and minimize the chance of an injury, while making use of the Redskins’ other talented skill position players.

Fortunately, Gruden has experience in calling plays that get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly. He did this to protect quarterback Andy Dalton in Cincinnati the past three seasons. Dalton’s weakness is passing under pressure, and at least last season, that was a big problem for Griffin as well.

In Griffin, Gruden has one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the league. But it remains to be seen how much of the dynamic quickness and speed RGIII possessed during his rookie year will return. The elusiveness that RGIII showed in 2012 when he rushed for 815 yards and seven touchdowns was clearly compromised last year, and may take more time still to return in game situations.

Last year, Griffin’s rushing attempts dropped from 120 to 86. RGIII shouldn’t be rushing the ball more often than he did last year, but as the season goes on and Griffin becomes more comfortable, more quarterback runs can be mixed in to keep defenses on their toes.

Griffin’s designed rushes should be limited, and he needs to throw the ball away more often rather than forcing the ball into tight coverage or taking off to run. His eagerness to make plays when defenders converged on him hurt the Redskins at times last year.

At least early in the season, the Redskins should establish a rhythm between Griffin and new deep threat DeSean Jackson by throwing short to medium range passes, to limit mistakes early and build up Griffin’s confidence, while allowing Jackson to gain yardage after the catch.

Griffin has talented players to throw the ball to, including wide receivers Jackson and Pierre Garcon and tight end Jordan Reed. Alfred Morris is one of the best running backs in the league. However, the Redskins’ offensive line consists of Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams and a bunch of players who range from solid to unproven at best. It would be smart of the Redskins to run early and often during the beginning part of the season to help RGIII build a foundation for the year.

Morris needs to step up his game as well in learning how to run short routes and catch better. The third-year running back has been a great surprise in rushing for 2,888 yards his first two seasons. But he only has 20 receptions in 32 games.

To be a truly outstanding running back, Morris must be multi-dimensional and serve as at least an occasional threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. In today’s game, running backs need to be more involved in the passing game than ever before. At the same time, Gruden needs to get Morris a little more involved in the short passing game, even if it’s just one more reception per game.

If Morris is no threat at all to catch passes, defenders can focus more on receivers and tight ends. Likewise, the Redskins cannot use a third down specialist who only catches passes or blocks for RGII. Otherwise, the Redskins will be too predictable.

Much has been made about the battle for the third down running back position between Roy Helu, Jr., Chris Thompson, Evan Royster and rookie Lache Seastrunk. But Helu has already shown he can perform. He has 87 catches in 34 games in limited playing time.

Helu has also averaged 4.3 yards per rush over his three seasons, which is more than respectable. Helu is equally adept at rushing and catching the ball. That versatility helps keep defenses honest. Helu can spell Morris occasionally on all downs. If the speedy Thompson can contribute, that will be an added bonus that will force defenses to prepare for three distinct running backs.

The Redskins started last season 0-3 and never recovered. A low-risk offensive game plan early in the season could keep Griffin healthy, gradually get the offense in rhythm and minimize mistakes. Increasing the number of deep passes to Jackson and Garcon as time goes on would be a smart strategy.

If the defense does its part and the special teams becomes even close to average, the Redskins’ offense, full of talented players in the backfield and on the edges could give the Redskins an reasonable shot at a winning season.

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